By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Reprieve came the way of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Monday as the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, granted the party a stay of execution order on the judgment of the Federal High Court which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to delist candidates of the party in Rivers State from participating in the 2019 general election.
The Rivers State chapter of the APC said by the ruling, the party has been vindicated and would contest the elections while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said it is not perturbed by the ruling as its work in the state would ensure victory for its candidates.
The Federal High Court presided over by Justice Kolawole Omotosho had while delivering judgment on a suit brought by the PDP disqualified APC candidates from being on the ballot for the general election.
But ruling Monday on a motion for stay of execution brought before it by both factions of the APC, the Appeal Court ordered INEC to relist their names on the ballot.
Delivering the ruling, the presiding justice, Hon. Justice Ali Gumel, whose ruling was read by Justice Muhammed Mustapha, said it would amount to injustice to the parties if the court refused to grant the stay of execution order.
The Appeal Court noted that there was multiplication of appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court, adding that all the parties in the suit appealed against the judgment in separate suits while almost all the parties also applied for stay of execution.
The judgment also noted that INEC as a party in the matter did not file a counter affidavit on the application served it.
Mustapha added that: “It will be unjust to repeal the application for stay of execution of the Federal High Court judgment of January 7, 2019.”
Speaking with journalists after the judgment, counsel to the APC, Mr. Chimenem Wisdom Jerome, who was holding brief for Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), said with the ruling, INEC would bring back APC candidates in the list for the 2019 general election.
He said: “Today, the court delivered a ruling, the landmark one at that, staying the execution of the judgment delivered by Justice Kolawale Omotosha of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt in suit number FC/PHC/144/2018, wherein he barred all APC candidates from participating in the 2019 general election. Also, it declared that APC will present no candidates.
“The Court of Appeal being an appellate court, in its wisdom stated that since all the parties in that suit 144 are dissatisfied, they all filed notices of appeal.
“All the parties except the Independent National Electoral Commission are appellants in this matter, which means that all the parties are dissatisfied with judgment, so the court feel the justice it can give to the matter is to stay the execution.
“And by this ruling today, APC in Rivers State and their candidates are free to participate in the elections. They can go about their campaigns, go about everything that is lawful to ensure that they are in the ballot and that INEC should ensure that their named are got back to the list.
“The court said the issue whether INEC omitted the names of the candidates was not sure because it has not told the court such. That in the eyes if the law no name was omitted.”
But counsel to Senator Magnus Abe and 42 others, Patrick Luke, in the suit CA3/37/2019, said the ruling has not changed the position that APC candidates have been omitted in the election list.
He said: “The appellant asked for a stay of execution of judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on January 7, 2019. They also asked for a restraining order.
“At the end of the proceedings today, the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division delivered a ruling and refused the reliefs restraining INEC from obeying orders of the reliefs that were sought in the Federal High Court judgment delivered in January.
“However, the court also granted their reliefs for stay of execution.
“The implication is that legally speaking, you cannot order for a stay of execution on a completed act. The act they sought to stay is for INEC to remove the name of the candidate of APC from their lists, that act has already been completed.
“For the records, on January 17, 2019, INEC published the list of candidates of political parties for 2019 general election in Rivers State for the National Assembly members. The names of the candidates of APC were conspicuously omitted because they were obeying order of the judgment of the Federal High Court.
“Again, on Friday January 31, 2019, INEC further published the final list of candidates for 2019 governorship election, obviously and the House of Assembly candidates of APC in the state were omitted and not published.
“The implication is that those acts sought to be stayed have already been completed by INEC and INEC did not file any process to refute that they did not publish any list.
“And again, the court did not give order to INEC to put back the names of the people they have removed, no order like that.”
Meanwhile, the Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation (TCCO) has applauded the ruling.
TCCO, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt Monday by its spokesman, Ogbonna Nwuke, said the High Court judgment had stood between the APC and its right to participate in the general election.
The statement reads in part: “We have received with profound satisfaction, news of the landmark decision reached by the Court of Appeal presided over by his Lordship, Justice Ali Gumel, JCA.
“The court in its wisdom stayed the execution of the judgment of the Federal High Court which had stood between the APC and its right to participate in the forthcoming general election in Rivers State.
“Recall that Governor Nyesom Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party had dragged the gubernatorial candidate of the APC, Pastor Tonye Cole, and other candidates of the party to the Federal High Court.
“In what was obviously an attempt to deny the Rivers people of their right to choose in an election year, the PDP and its leadership in the most bizarre manner moved to foreclose the participation of the APC in the electoral process.
“We are therefore elated by the ruling of the Court of Appeal which has responsibly removed all legal incumberances that were hindering the progress of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal has proved beyond reasonable doubt that justice can only be delayed, but not denied. It has similarly justified the legal axiom which says that those who come to equity must do so with clean hands.”
The Rivers State chapter of the APC also said it has been vindicated by the ruling, adding that victory at the Supreme Court was only a matter of time.
In a statement issued by its Publicity Secretary Chris Finebone, the party said: “We have always said that the wheel of justice may grind slowly, sometimes annoyingly slowly, but surely justice comes ultimately. We believe that today’s judgment has vindicated APC in Rivers State.
“Now, anyone who has carefully and painstakingly followed our pending matter at the Supreme Court, especially, during the last sitting before the apex court reserved ruling, will easily and safely conclude that our victory at the Supreme Court is only a matter of time.
“INEC, by today’s Appeal Court ruling, should by now be reinstating our candidates’ names on the ballot in line with the status quo before the pronouncement by the Federal High Court of Justice Omotosho.”
In his own reaction, Governor Nyesom Wike’s Campaign Organisation said it was not perturbed by the ruling.
The spokesman of the organisation, Emma Okah, said Wike was confident of winning the election because of his achievements in the state.
“We are not perturbed. We are not afraid of any candidate contesting against Governor Nyesom Wike. His achievements in the state will speak for him and the people of Rivers State will surely grant him victory any day,” he said.